A Step by Step Guide to Applying to University

Wednesday, February 03, 2016 12:00 AM

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Planning on heading off to uni soon but don’t really know where to start? It can feel like a massive process to get your head around what to do and where to go, as well as all the terminology and deadlines that you have to understand and remember. Luckily BestCourse4me have done the hard work and broken down the whole process into easy chunks so you can save yourself some stress and look forward to Freshers’!

You’ve probably heard about UCAS, the system used to connect applicants (that’s you) to their universities of choice – it’s well worth checking out their website as you’ll hear a lot more about them as you go further into your university application journey.

What Course to Study?

This is definitely a toughy and worth putting some thought into. You might have an idea of what you want to study in more detail after doing a subject for A Level, SQA Highers or BTEC. Maybe you’ve got your eye on a particular job or industry that you want to work in after university or at least the kind of work you want to be doing. Lots of people also take a hobby or interest that they’ve enjoyed and want to make a career out of so ask yourself if there are any sports, musical talents, arts or activities you find fun and see if you can study those.

Once you’ve got those starting questions sorted, put your answers into the bestCourse4me course finder which is ideal for seeing and sorting the possible options you can take to study, and which universities offer the courses that you’re interested in. Take into account that with some courses you have to apply sooner than others – check out our application deadlines cheat sheet for those crucial dates.

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Which University?

So you’ve chosen what do to, now to look at where to go. Depending on your course, you’re likely to have fewer hours spent in lessons and seminars at university than your current sixth form levels, as more time is spent on independent work and research. For many, the university campus is where they eat, sleep, party and study so it’s worth checking out what the university offers beyond the course, so when choosing (with the help of the course finder, of course) make sure the uni ticks the following boxes:

  • Course Content and Delivery – Is it hands on with loads of labs to do research, or more theory based? Courses such as music, business and computer science differ in this way depending on the university that runs them. It’s also worth looking at the kind of field trips you might get to go on!  Can you take two subjects, such as English and Drama, Economics and Maths or History and Politics?
  • University reputation – How will your university look on your CV? Will you receive a high standard of teaching? Has anyone who took that course made the big time?
  • Pass rates / Dropout rates – Does the course strike the right balance between being a worthwhile challenge and an accomplishable task?
  • Entry Requirements – Do the grades or UCAS points you need match up with your predicted grades? Do they also have required subjects (such as foreign languages) and are these just recommended requirements or fixed?
  • Exams and Major projects – Will you have to write a dissertation?  Is it a sandwich course? (where you take a year out to work in an industry or take a year abroad)
  • Time spent in lectures and seminars – Do you work best independently or with lots of contact with teachers and tutors? How easy is it to get in touch with your lecturers for help?

That’s all the course related stuff covered, but we know that university life is more than just lectures, libraries and laboratories so here are the key questions to help choose between a good uni and a great uni.

  • Accommodation – Where will you live during your 3+ years at Uni? In halls, back home or in a shared house? Do you want to cook for yourself or have your catering covered? Are there plenty of places nearby or will it be a big commute in?
  • Social Scene – Is your thing comedy, clubbing, ballet or burgers? How do the offerings on campus compare to what you’re used to back home? Are there other places nearby like the beach, or shopping centres?
  • Societies and clubs – Are there lots of opportunities to try new things and meet like-minded individuals? Can you carry on your sport or hobby once you’re at university?
  • Student Jobs – Your student loan will only go so far, so how easy is it to find work while you study? Are you in a big city where you can find something quick and temporary, or does the university employ students too? Are there any local employers relevant to your business who have a graduate intake each year?
  • Transport links – if it takes the best part of 2 days, and 6 buses, 3 trains and a taxi to go and see your boyfriend or girlfriend who’s at uni elsewhere, and even longer to get home when you’ve run out of emergency underwear and Pot Noodles, then maybe look somewhere a bit better connected.

Don’t be overwhelmed by these questions, you may find that some of these are not important to you and can be ignored. Use them as a guide to help you work out the pros and cons of each university and remember that some universities, such as Oxford or Cambridge have an earlier date to get your application in! 

what to expect, so make sure you register in plenty of time and make a mental list of the things you want to find out before you go.

You’ll have a few talks to go to, mainly from staff and tours to go on, led by current students such as:

Talks

  • Subject course
  • Student Finance
  • Societies

Tours

  • University
  • Accommodation
  • Student Union & Library

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Personal Statement

Once you know the type of course you would like to study, you can start tailoring your personal statement to show why you are suitable for the course. You need to allow time to research what to include in your personal statement. Attending conventions and university open days will help understand what universities are looking for in potential students, as well as being a great place to pick up freebies

Do not copy or lie in your personal statement – you will get found out! If you have copied your statement this will not reflect well on you, the university is likely to refuse your application. This statement goes to all 5 of your choices, so you could get refused by each one of them, not worth it!

You’ll need to tweak it here and there before final submission so allow time to write drafts and get it checked by teachers and career advisors. There is a 4,000 character limit or 47 lines of text which you can split between the reasons you’re applying, what you like about the subject, your skills, knowledge and experience then a final section of extra-curricular hobbies and achievements.

If a course is competitive, the university will rely on your personal statement to decide if you are suitable for the course and to become an undergraduate with them.

Interview

University Interviews & Auditions

Part of the application process may include an interview or an audition. If you are requested to attend an interview it is important to prepare by re-reading your personal statement and try answering practice questions.

  • Oxford and Cambridge require interviews
  • Performing arts based courses may require an audition
  • Medical courses are likely to require an interview

Offers

Once you have submitted your university application form it is a waiting game. The universities you have applied to will read through your application and determine if you should get a place on their course or not.

There are various deadlines that the universities comply by to ensure prospect students receive all offers in plenty of time.

If you receive more than one offer you will need to decide on a first choice and an insurance choice (in case you don’t meet your predicted grades). We recommend choosing a second choice with a lower entry requirement so that it can act as an ‘insurance’ choice.

A Level Results

Results Day

This day in August is always nerve-racking for A-level students. Depending on what you are concerned with most, you can check your UCAS progress before schools open with the A-level results. This information tends to get updated first.

Achieved Predicted Grades?

Great, you got what you wanted from all your hard work at AS and A-level. You should have been accepted onto your first choice course. Accept your place through UCAS to confirm your place at your chosen university.

Didn’t Make your Predicted Grades?

Do not panic yet, I know it may seem like the end of the world but there are things you can do. If you didn’t make your first choice but have met the requirements for your second choice you can accept your place through UCAS.

If you have not met the requirements for your second choice either than you can apply for a place at university through clearing. On results day, many places are freed up due to students accepting one course over the other. As a result, students who didn’t meet the requirements of their university offer can apply for courses at certain universities through this process. Be aware that clearing places go quickly so the earlier you know your results the better you can be prepared for what’s next.

Do not go on holiday on results day! You may need to apply through clearing which Is a lot like finding what you want in the sales – you have to get in quick and make sure you hold onto your new purchase.

Exceeded Expectation?

Well done, firstly you do not need to accept your first choice university. You can apply through a process called Adjustment. A-level students can apply through adjustment from results day until the 31st August. If this is applicable to your results the option to apply for adjustment will show up in the UCAS Track screen.

If you do not find a course that appeals to you then you have your original firm choice.

Next Steps

You have now applied to university. The next steps to think about are:

    • Accommodation
    • Student Finance
    • Course Reading

Well done and good luck for the future!

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